1990 : Pilote acquires German manufacturer Frankia
In 1990, Pilote once again demonstrated its intention to internationalize and increase its presence in Europe by acquiring Frankia, the fifth largest manufacturer inGermany. SinceGermanyregistered almost half of all European motorhomes at the time, this was clearly a strategic move. Using the Frankia distributor network, Pilote planned to double its sales of motorhomes in Germany.
Based in Marktschorgast near Bayreuth in Bavaria, production facilities at Frankia were not up to the standard of those of its French parent company but the firm boasted an extraordinary brand image. The company employed 150 people and produced some 1,000 motorhomes per year.
And invests in the La Limouzinière plant
The motorhome market had been booming since 1986 with growth of 20% per year in France and 40% in Germany. Customers were relatively well-off and older than those buying caravans. Their vision of tourism revolved around freedom and the desire to get off the beaten track.
Consequently, Pilote invested in its French site while focusing on external growth. Land was purchased (1.5 ha), certain workshops were refurbished, industrial investment was made in numerically controlled machines and an automation programme, and attempts were made to increase productivity – all with a view to increasing the potential of the La Limouzinière plant. Its target was to produce 3,000 vehicles a year.
5 new models brought out
In 1990, Pilote brought out five new models including the new 9000 SX A-Class using ‘double skin’ cast polyester with a polyurethane core for the front facing and an Airex core for the entire body.
1991 : The gulf war
The Gulf War sent a chill through the tourism market. Pilote responded to a drop in orders by cutting production, although its strategy remained unchanged. Quality and exports were still the priorities.
Faced with mounting stock, Pilote decided to cut its production to 2,000 units in 1991 but its goal remained the same: to strengthen its European position by putting the emphasis on quality and providing itself with the means to be one of the leading companies in a market which was growing by 20% per year
Having experienced spectacular growth, Pilote now hit a bad patch. The European market was shrinking rapidly. To avoid going off track, Pilote decided to give its product range a profound overhaul to adapt to market developments and customer requirements.
The crisis caused the European market to shrink rapidly. The UK, Sweden and Finland introduced taxes which deterred many potential buyers. Sales in these countries fell by 60%.
The French market suffered the same fate. In September 1992, annual sales figures for leisure vehicles left little room for doubt. In one year, registrations of motorhomes fell by 4% with 5,850 sales compared to 6,100 the previous year. Caravan sales were down 11.4% with 18,000 sales compared to 20,200 the previous year. Durable capital goods and deferrable investments were the first to be hit by the crisis. French people went back to cheap holiday equipment and the good old tent made a dramatic comeback.
The direct impact on Pilote was that the flow of production was hampered.
To survive the crisis, Pilote set itself three priorities: technological innovation, quality and a high level of flexibility in adapting to customer demand. Next came customer service and a focus on people – people within the company and the 155 dealerships. This focus gave rise to partnerships and training.
Pilote responded by giving its range a thorough overhaul
1992 saw a thorough overhaul of the Pilote range with a view to meeting client expectations more effectively. Of the 22 motorhome models in the 1992 range, 14 were new. Three new product lines with further improvements to design and functional aspects were launched: Atlantis (models 38 CX, 39CX, 47 CX and 48 CX), Pacific (31 PX, 32 PX, 64 PX, 66 PX and 67 PX) and Galaxy (76MX, 78MX, 80 MX, 85 MX, 86MX).
The aesthetics changed completely. Although most layouts had already been tried, Pilote 92 vehicles were completely different to previous models, both inside and out, with new bodywork, aluminium door sills, minimalist décor and reworked front facings. Furthermore, a range of lowered low profile motorhomes on wide-track Al-Ko chassis was launched. The interior was fitted with premium cassette blinds, framed windows with no thermal bridges, laminated cabinets surrounded by solid cherry wood … the list of innovations in the Pilote 1992 vintage goes on. The range boasted enhanced quality and a more modern style.
Changes were also made to the names of motorhomes. Instead of model numbers preceded by an ‘R’, we now had Atlantis (coachbuilt), Pacific (low profile) and Galaxy (A-Class).
Atlantis vehicles were family motorhomes, Pacific motorhomes were for retired customers taking longer trips and Galaxy vehicles were the high-end models.
These unprecedented efforts show the company’s desire to lead the European market.
1993 : Stricken by the crisis, Pilote reverted to its original role as a caravan manufacturer although it also continued to be the top French motorhome manufacturer.
Pilote hit its peak in June 1990 when it was producing 2,500 vehicles per year. The company also gained a foothold in the German market that year by acquiring 100% of manufacturer Frankia. The Gulf War put a stop to this positive trend. Although the French market remained stable in 1992, overseas sales dropped by 50%. In this climate, Pilote was forced to cut its production to 1,700 units in 1991 and then stabilise to 1,200 units in 1993. This marked the company’s nadir.
This slowdown led to a restructuring plan whereby the Pilote workforce shrank from 212 employees in 1990 to 110 in 1993.
That said, Pilote was still the top French manufacturer with almost 20% of the domestic market. It was also the third biggest European manufacturer.
Pilote’s counter-offensive involved going back to its roots making caravans. Since the caravan market had reached its nadir, the sector had condensed to a small group of companies in which Pilote played a prominent role. A number of prototypes were manufactured and launched at trade fairs in Le Bourget and Essen in Germany.